A private Montana fishing estate takes its cues from the vast and rugged landscape.
In summer, wildflowers stipple the mountain slopes of Montana’s Gallatin County, not far from Bozeman. The region is home to brooks flowing with trout and layers of hillsides and jagged peaks. The unmarred waterfront terrain inspired the owner of this home to purchase 300 acres within the glade where the Gallatin River forks. One could say his appreciation for land was an occupational hazard, having owned a landscape development company in Southern California for more than 30 years. As passionate about the land itself as the opportunities it afforded for hunting and fishing, he saw the spot as the perfect place to build a vacation property to enjoy with his three adult children and outdoorsy friends.
To forge his vision of living in harmony with the land, the homeowner turned to Studio H. Design, a Bozeman firm noted for its mountain modern aesthetic and its philosophy that both the land and the client should dictate design direction. Studio owner and lead architect Nate Heller built his approach upon insights gleaned from the owner, who spent more than two summers on the site, residing in a tentlike structure to determine the ideal section to break ground. Heller says, “He knew where the prevailing winds were, where the views were, where the sun path was, and what he wanted to see. He knew everything about the property.”
A recessed area of the valley was chosen for the 4,000-square-foot main residence and two 1,200-square-foot cabins. Heller and his team pushed 12 feet below bedrock and removed a side of a hill to discreetly tuck the house into the landscape. Secondary spaces dominate the hill-facing walls inside the home, insulating it in the winter and keeping interiors cool during summer months. In those warmer months, the home is swept with light and a southwesterly breeze from the 10 lift-and-slide glass panels from Brombal that retract into hidden pockets. Each spans 8 feet by 10 feet, a large format for the company that required special fabrication and transport from Italy.
A custom seed mix based on the location’s assortment of switchblade grasses and other vegetation was created so that the cantilevered rooftops could meld with their surroundings year-round. “The houses change along with the season,” explains Heller. “When you come in spring, the roofs are green and vibrant and match the ground, and in the fall, the roofs are brown and blend right in.” Further camouflage includes the use of siding made from ipe wood, a fast-growing hardwood from South America. Heller and his team left it raw so that with time the exterior will naturally gray to fuse seamlessly into the hillside.
The genius of this residence comes not only from its hiding-in-plain-sight design, but also from its vantage point as a frame for the dramatic landscape. The home’s living room extends a 270-degree view of the mountainous horizon. The east cabin looks downriver to the iconic Spanish Peaks in the west, while the west cabin faces eastward toward the Bridger and Beartooth ranges.
Interiors, a collaboration between the owner and Studio H. Design, have a rustic elegance exemplified by pieces such as Jane Hallworth’s Ishmael floor lamp, which dangles between Timothy Oulton cowhide chairs anchored next to a custom steel fireplace by Stûv in the spacious great room. The opposite wing’s poolside saloon features Hallworth’s Auriga wall installation from her Constellation series, which reflects the owner’s passion for stargazing. Auriga is Latin for “charioteer,” which Heller says ties aptly to the owner’s love for horses. In the dining room, the airy and rectangular Universe chandelier by Jan Pauwels for Quasar gives a further nod to the owner’s affinity for constellations. Each three-dimensional work of art feels both personal and appropriate for the aesthetic of the space.
The rooms that perhaps best echo the owner’s interests are the saloon and the kitchen, both designed for entertaining. In the saloon, motifs reveal a love of old westerns as well as a nostalgia for past eras. Siberian larch wide-plank floors and rewired circa-1930 factory lights suspended over a bar made from recycled steel beams and strapping feel natural beside Poltrona Frau’s low-slung leather furnishings and rug by Beni Ourain. The kitchen’s countertop—a single piece cut from an 18-inch-deep, 35-inch-wide, and 40-foot-long fir beam—marries the natural world with the sleek German design of Bulthaup’s b3 line. Tucked away behind smooth veneer panels are a suite of Miele appliances intended to cater to a houseful of hunting and fishing enthusiasts: two refrigerators, two freezers, two dishwashers, and an induction range. The space also has two Gaggenau ovens. The outdoor entertainment area combines gastronomy with astronomy; guests can gather around the fireplace after dining alfresco or soak in the custom 12-foot-by-12-foot stainless-steel plunge pool while looking up at nature’s chandelier—Montana’s majestic night sky.
A dedicated screening room and shuffleboard court speak to this residence’s role as a family retreat. And to accommodate these large gatherings, Heller created flex space throughout the property. “We wanted the cabins to feel like cabins, with an intimate feel to the space. However, there are times when more sleeping arrangements might be required,” he says. Heller augmented the main home with a subterranean eight-bed bunkhouse and used Roche Bobois Escape sofas that can be converted into extra beds in the cabins.
Heller takes pride in having repurposed the site’s resources. “We never hauled any dirt off the property whatsoever,” he says. The home not only treads lightly upon the land, it epitomizes Frank Lloyd Wright’s philosophy: “No house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill, belonging to it. Hill and house should live together, each the happier for the other.” Studio H. Design, 406.570.8207